Still More American Can't Afford Doctor Visits, Despite Insurance Gains

A growing number of people in the U.S. find it too expensive to see doctors though more people have medical insurance, a U.S. study suggests.

Over the past 20 years, the proportion of adults without insurance dropped to 14.8% from 16.9%, the research discovered.

However, the proportion of adults unable to afford doctor visits hiked from 11.4% to 15.7%.

Out-of-pocket costs made docs too expensive for the uninsured; however, costs further saved individuals with coverage from seeing physicians even after they had chronic sickness requiring regular checkups.

For the study, researchers analyzed survey data collected from 1998 to 2017 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They wanted to see how access to healthcare modified after the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was rolled out in 2014.

The proportion of adults ages 18 to 64 who couldn’t afford to see a doctor grew steadily from 1998 to 2009, then rose more quickly for several years before enhancing with the passage of the ACA, researchers report in JAMA Internal Medicine. However, even after the ACA took effect, the proportion of adults in a position to afford checkups never turned to 1998 levels.

Affordability worsened across all racial and ethnic communities, and practically all income groups.

Among the many uninsured, the proportion of adults unable to afford doctor visits grew from 32.9% to 39.6% over the two-decade study interval.

For Americans with health benefits, the proportion unable to pay for physician visits surged from 7.1% to 11.5%.

The inability to see a doctor due to costs climbed for people with many common health conditions, including heart disease, excessive cholesterol, and alcohol use disorders.

The study does not speak on whether or how variations in the affordability of doctor checkups affected health outcomes.